The Atlanta Hawks have long been the forgotten franchise in the East come All-Star weekend. Consistent performers, perennially playoff bound, but lacking true stars. Under Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, the Hawks played mostly slow-paced isolation ball which did no favors for the popularity of the team or its players around the NBA.
Now things are different, though. Under their new head coach, Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks are playing a more dynamic and attractive brand of basketball. Preaching the sort of team-first, unselfish offense that has reaped rewards in San Antonio, Coach Bud has the Hawks occupying the third spot in the East, while leading the league in assists.
This means that for the first time in years, Atlanta may not find themselves on the outside looking in as a steadily consistent franchise. In total, the Hawks have five players who are unquestionably worthy of consideration for various roles in different events across the 2014 All-Star Weekend. So without further ado, lets take a look at those players.
Paul Millsap: Having signed as a free agent in the offseason, Millsap offers the best chance for Atlanta to get a man in the NBA’s main showcase game. For years his consistent play as an elite level forward was overlooked by league veterans and fans alike, meaning that the Louisiana native never got the chance to shine as one of the Western Conference’s All-Stars.
Now in the absence of teammate Al Horford, Millsap continues to elevate his play to assume a leadership role and push Atlanta to victory. On a nightly basis he has been stuffing the stat sheet to give the Hawks a bit of everything. A prime example of this was in Wednesday night’s victory over the Magic, were Millsap was only two steals shy of the ever so rare 5-by-5 game.
For the year as a Hawk, Millsap is averaging 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks. This has also been complemented by Millsap’s development of a legitimate 3-point shot to stretch the floor. Millsap is shooting 46.8 percent from the field overall, with 38.1 percent from 3-point range. To date this season, Millsap has made 40 3-pointers, in comparison with 31 for his career before the season began.
Millsap is the one Hawk that seems to have been universally agreed upon to merit a reserve spot on the East’s team, so it would be a massive shock if he does in fact miss out.
Jeff Teague: The other Hawk player offered up for selection by the NBA is Indianapolis native Jeff Teague. Although Teague is not having as good a season now as he was earlier in the year, he has continued to show year-to-year improvement, making him one of the best young guards in the league.
Teague is thriving under the guidance of Mike Budenholzer as he is given much much greater responsibility and trust than he had been during the Larry Drew era. Budenholzer’s ultimate goal is to shape Teague into a Tony Parker-esque figure, something that’s very feasible due to Teague’s all-around skill set.
Although he is having a difficult shooting year, down in field goal, 3-point and free throw percentage, the rest of Teague’s numbers have improved to career-high marks this season. He’s currently averaging 16.4 points, 7.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game.
Teague was very much in the hot seat for a spot on the All-Star squad, but a slight drop in his own standards has coincided with a spike in the play of others. In particular, Kyle Lowry and Lance Stephenson look like players who could potentially grab a spot that once appeared designated for Teague and it would be no real surprise if this was to be the final outcome.
Pero Antic: Perhaps this wasn’t something that would have been expected at the beginnning of the year, but undrafted rookie Antic has performed to such a high level that he is widely being touted as a top-five contender for Rookie of the Year. The 32-year-old Macedonian has seen his role increased in Al Horford’s absence through injury and has been showing off his full repertoire of skills.
A strong rebounder and tough one-on-one defender, Antic gives up very little defensively, while his 3-point touch and exquisite pump fake make him a constant threat on offense.
For the season so far, he is averaging 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game, but with his recent jump in minutes it won’t be long before his averages rise even higher. Antic should be a lock for this game.
Mike Scott: This time last year the mere suggestion of this would have been met by most with a look of disbelief, but Mike Scott has earned the right to be considered for the Rising Stars Challenge. Not generally a game that includes many second-round draft picks, Mike Scott’s impressive NBA career to date is bucking trends.
Behind the likes of Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Harrison Barnes, there is no reason why Mike Scott shouldn’t be given serious consideration for one of the few remaining spots. So far this season, in an average of 15.8 minutes per game, Scott has scored 8.5 points adding 3.3 rebounds.
Having stepped into the role of providing instant offense off the bench, the former Virginia Cavalier has shown that his game is much more varied and advanced than many others who were higher rated prospects in his draft.
Kyle Korver: I would be shocked if the NBA doesn’t do all in its power to try and get Korver in the 3-point contest. As one of the greatest shooters in recent years, he would long have been an excellent choice to participate in the contest, but this year more than ever he would act as the main attraction.
With his NBA record breaking streak still ongoing, Korver represents a rare opportunity to witness history being made as it happens. This seems like exactly the sort of thing the NBA will look to take advantage of, as adding Korver would not only mean one of the league’s best shooters was participating, but also one that could draw significant media attention.
Korver is currently third in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 45.7 percent.
Tags: Atlanta Hawks